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Family Law | Divorce in Arizona

The decision to file for divorce is never an easy one. It is a major life change that should not be taken lightly nor underestimated. I have often found over the years of practicing family law in Arizona that Clients who have made the decision to divorce believe that the "worst is over" and that they will simply get on with their lives. Nothing could be further from the truth. Now the legal process begins.

Arizona is a community property state. Simply put, community property is any property acquired during marriage. There are, however, several ways to acquire separate property while married - a few are by gift, inheritance, and devise.1

Arizona law requires a specific process with specific forms to be completed in order to navigate the system. Maricopa County has a self service center online that provides the required forms together with the instructions for their use - many people utilize this service. Another option is a paralegal service or document preparation service. The initial documents can be filled out (assuming they are done correctly), filed with the Court, the filing fee paid and the other party is then served. The problem arises when the other party files a Response to the divorce paperwork - the parties now have a contested divorce.2

There are two ways to resolve a contested divorce, either by ultimate agreement of the parties (usually after negotiation) or as a result of a trial where a judge makes the decision when the parties cannot agree. In the case of people representing themselves, whether they have utilized the online service or a paralegal/document preparation service, they don’t know what to do next or where they can go to get answers to their questions. That is where a competent divorce attorney is especially helpful. Those of us who have practiced for years, understand the system, can navigate it, represent Clients in court and can advise the Client if their position is reasonable or not.

There are many pitfalls to be dealt with when one chooses to represent oneself rather than rely on an attorney’s help. For example, if the paperwork in incorrect or incomplete, a judge could reject it thereby prolonging the divorce. A person might be able to get through the system and actually get a divorce but what if the paperwork has an error? You then risk having the court set the divorce aside (throwing it out) and you’re back at square one with settlement negotiations.

A surprising element of divorce in Arizona is that people who choose to represent themselves are held to the same standard as if they were represented by an attorney. That means that when you go before an Arizona judge, you are expected to tell the judge your side of the story, call witnesses when appropriate, request that exhibits be entered into evidence and raise objections to improper questions - all while you’re sitting across the courtroom from the person who shared your life for years. I often ask my Clients - "can you do that"?



Footnote 1: Consult with a licensed Arizona attorney to find out more about obtaining and retaining separate property while married or call (480) 344-1802 to schedule a consultation with the author.

Footnote 2: A contested divorce is one where the parties disagree about one or more issues related to the divorce.







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